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If you're worried about your dog's potential to bite someone, can hanging a "Beware of Dog" sign on your property offer any sort of legal protection in the event of a dog bite lawsuit?
Although in limited situations a "Beware of Dog" sign may actually help a litigious victim (by allegedly showing you knew of your dog's vicious propensities), in general, warning passersby, guests, and even potential trespassers about the presence of a dog that may attack may actually be of help to you in defending yourself from a dog bite suit.
What are the possible legal ramifications of a "Beware of Dog" sign? Here's a general overview:
Sign May Suggest the Owner Knew of 'Vicious Propensities'
Animal bite laws vary from state to state, with some states imposing strict liability on the owners of dogs for injuries caused by dog bites. In states that don't have strict liability laws for dog bites, however, plaintiffs who sue over their injuries typically must prove that the owner knew or had reason to know of the dog's "vicious propensities."
Among the evidence a plaintiff can try to introduce to show knowledge of vicious propensities is the presence of a warning sign on the owner's premises. Although the presence of a sign does not in and of itself prove knowledge of vicious propensities, in combination with previous bites, complaints brought to the owner's attention, or other signs of aggression, it may be enough.
Sign May Suggest the Victim 'Assumed the Risk'
However, a sign may also work in a dog owner's favor, by showing that the victim of a dog bite knew the potential risk, and voluntary chose to assume that risk by getting near the dog.
Even in states with strict liability animal bites laws, assumption of risk may be used as a defense.
While the decision to post a sign is ultimately up to an individual dog owner, the ability of a warning sign to prevent a dog bite from happening in the first place may be the most effective legal protection you can get.
If you are involved in a potential dog bite lawsuit, an injury lawyer can help explain the laws in your state and your potential legal options.